Since the release of the Department of Justice’s report finding that the Baltimore Police Department unconstitutionally stops and arrests African Americans, a great deal of attention has been paid – and for good reason – to the various ways in which Baltimore’s policing practices and accountability systems must change. But, that is not the end of story.
As the report observes, and as anyone who has lived or spent time here can tell you, the City has a “long history of social and economic challenges,” leading to “the perception that there are ‘Two Baltimores:’ one wealthy and largely White, the second impoverished and predominantly Black.” The recognition is an important one. Rampant dysfunction and brutality in Baltimore’s police department was well known within the City’s low-income African American communities. Wealthy White areas of the city reacted with shock at the report’s unsparing description of a problem that has existed in plain sight in the City for decades. In addition to being regularly subjected to unconstitutional stops and arrests, many African Americans continue to live in neighborhoods where jobs are scarce, unemployment is high, and substandard housing is rampant. In parts of West Baltimore, unemployment rates are as high as twenty-five percent.
Racial and socioeconomic segregation in Baltimore lies at the root of the “two Baltimores” described in the DOJ report. A key contributor to segregation in Baltimore is the lack of access to basic transportation for many African-American residents who live along the City’s east-west corridor. In some neighborhoods, like the West Baltimore neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived and fatally encountered police last year, a majority of households have no vehicle and are entirely dependent on buses for travel. Compounding matters, buses too often run slowly, with speeds from Edmonson Village, in West Baltimore, to downtown averaging nine miles per hour during rush hour. Without a car or access to a viable means of public transportation, many residents have no way to get to the jobs that will allow them to afford better housing and, otherwise, better their lives.